Photo: Big Agnes

Meet The Gear Maker Putting Sustainability First

The new Big Agnes backpack line highlights the brand’s longstanding commitment to preserving the environment.

Outdoor gear maker Big Agnes is marking its 21st birthday with a brand-new line of backpacks that promises to be one of the industry’s most eco-friendly yet.  

To understand Big Agnes’s commitment to sustainability, you have to first understand a little bit about the brand’s history. Borrowing its name from a mountain in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area just outside the brand’s Steamboat Springs, Colorado, headquarters, Big Agnes was born in 2000 with a simple line of sleeping bags with pad sleeves. One of the pads, the Insulated Air Core, quickly won the Backpacker magazine Editors’ Choice Award, putting the brand on the map for good. Since then, the company has launched tents, apparel, and more, consistently winning awards for both its gear and its company culture (the brand was featured on Outside magazine’s Best Places to Work list in 2016). But throughout all the growth and change, the company never lost touch with the wilderness in its backyard. Big Agnes knows firsthand that the success of any outdoor brand depends on the health of the outdoors.

To that end, sustainability has always been a big part of Big Agnes’s mission. To get a sense of what that looks like, just check out a few of its latest innovations: In 2020, the brand started replacing the industry-standard, plastic-based foam in its sleeping pads with renewable sugar cane extract. In 2021, it adopted an eco-friendly dying process for tent fabrics and finished switching all its facilities to 100-percent renewable energy. Now, the Steamboat Springs, Colorado-based brand is keeping that momentum rolling with their first-ever line of backpacks—one that puts sustainability front and center.

“Getting into packs is a big deal for us, and we wanted to do it right,” explains company co-owner and co-founder Bill Gamber. “We have unique technology and experience on our R&D team, and we’ve talked about [launching a line of packs] for years. But we didn’t want to just do it—we wanted to apply everything we’ve learned over our 20 years.”

The hot-off-the-press line of packs includes backpacking packs—like the unisex Prospector 50L and the women's Sun Dog 45L—as well as a collection of smaller day packs. (Both the Prospector 50L and the Sun Dog 45L are available for presale at Public Lands beginning March 15).

Each of the packs are lightweight, durable, and thoughtfully designed with modular features like removable hip belt pouches. Each one features all-new suspension and compression systems and hydration bladder sleeves. As for their eco cred? 

The nylon material used in the main pack bodies is 85-percent recycled, for one thing. And the bigger packs also come with a “Trash Can” accessory—a lightweight, collapsible, recycled nylon trash receptacle that should make impromptu trail stewardship a no-brainer. 

“The Trash Can is kind of a fun addition designed to help people take care of the environment they’re using our products in,” explains Gamber. 

Photo: Big Agnes

The fabric on the new packs is also solution-dyed, an eco-friendly dyeing method Big Agnes first debuted in its tents in 2021. Solution dyeing reduces water consumption by 50 percent and energy and chemical use by 80 percent.  

It’s not the only sustainable tech innovation prioritized at Big Agnes. A number of Big Agnes sleeping bags now use 100-percent recycled insulation. (All the insulation in Big Agnes down sleeping bags is also certified and traceable to the Responsible Down Standard.) Then there’s the brand’s head-turning TwisterCane closed-cell foam sleeping pads. The foam is made from Brazilian sugar cane extract processed with a carbon-negative technique, which reduces energy, wastewater, and chemical use. 

“We’re thinking about sustainability holistically—from where and how materials are made to what they’re packaged and shipped in,” says Gamber. “There are a lot more sustainable materials available now so it’s an exciting time to be in the outdoor industry.”

We’d be remiss to talk about Big Agnes’s sustainability commitments without also nodding to its big-picture goals. The company recently joined the Outdoor Industry Association’s Climate Action Corps to help address climate issues and sustainability. Big Agnes also donates a portion of sales from its new chairs to conservation organizations. And a few years ago, the brand adopted 75 miles of the Continental Divide Trail and gave employees volunteer time to hike and help clean up the trail. 

“Conservation and stewardship are very important to us,” Gamber adds. “It’s our responsibility to help protect and maintain the areas that campers are using. It’s a full-circle thought process—we need public lands that are maintained and protected for our customers to get out and use. We pride ourselves on walking the walk. Our energy and focus continue to be on product innovation and sustainability.”

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.